PARIS - Sotheby’s next Orientalist sale in Paris on October 28 will consist of 205 lots of paintings, sculptures and works of art. It will also include a section dedicated to Islamic Art for the first time, with 120 lots illustrating les arts d’Orient from North Africa to China.
One of the sale's most desirable works is sure to be Jean-Léon Gérôme's magnificent Study for A Moorish Bath – Turkish Woman Bathing (estimate: ˆ80,000-120,000*). The sketch, dedicated to Gérôme's friend Bourgain (doubtless his pupil Gustave Bourgain), is remarkable for its technical quality and charming composition. Significantly, it has escaped retouching: Gérôme's unfinished works were often completed by other painters to enhance their commercial appeal, but this sketch remains intact, unaltered, and entirely in Gérôme's hand.
The work is a study for Gérôme's great 1870’s painting A Moorish Bath (Turkish Woman Bathing), now in a private collection. The artist seems to have had a close idea of the composition from the outset, reworking and developing it with studies and preparatory drawings, some of which have been lost. To Gérôme, the creative process was above all an intellectual one: he would think through the design for a composition carefully, then capture it in an initial study that served as the basis for the final work. Our picture is probably the first known study for A Moorish Bath, hence its freshness and spontaneity. Its appearance on the market is all the more important.
Gérôme strives to create a powerful psychological relationship between the bather at her toilette, and her maid-servant. The bather is shown leaning over a wash-basin, with her hands on the rim, waiting impatiently for the instant she will enjoy the delicious sensation of cool soap-suds on her warm body; her servant, busy stirring the soapy water, looks up as if wondering which part of the body to rub first.
The sale also features two works by Jacques Majorelle: Souk in Marrakesh (est. ˆ60,000-80,000) and his splendid Aouache from an American private collection (est. ˆ150,000-200,000). The Aouache or awash, a dance performed during village fêtes and celebrations, was one of Majorelle's favorite subjects, allowing him to show huge crowds gathered in the harsh Moroccan light. He liked to paint crowds from near at hand, almost in close-up, using daring, unexpected angles to help the viewer feel part of the scene and share the same emotion, amazement and enchantment that Majorelle himself experienced when attending Moroccan festivities.
Edy Legrand's painting The Ramparts of Anemiter (est. ˆ60,000-80,000) shows a more picturesque image of Moroccan life, beneath the ochre-colored walls of the kasbah in Anemiter. Like Majorelle, Legrand liked to paint the kasbahs of the Atlas, and enthused about "Berber Morocco with its black-cloaked mountain-dwellers, tiered ochre villages and, above all, its extraordinary kasbahs of beaten earth, with their semi-Saharan towers and overhanging roofs…."
North Africa also attracted American artists – among them Frederick Arthur Bridgman, whose works from the 1870s/80s, when he made several trips to Algeria and Egypt, count among the finest Orientalist works of the American School. The Market Scene to be offered here was painted later, in 1923, when Bridgman was living in Normandy, at Lyons-la-Forêt (est. ˆ40,000-60,000).
A group of works with Turkish appeal includes two splendid watercolor views of Constantinople by the Italo-Maltese artist Amadeo Preziosi: The Heights of Constantinople (1852) and his 1854 Twilight on the Bosphorus (est. ˆ25,000-35,000 apiece); and an interesting watercolor attributed to the Hungarian artist Gyula Tornai, Hiding in a Gallery in Hagia Sophia (est. ˆ20,000–30,000).
Mathurin Moreau's Semiramis or the Queen of Babylon was once owned by French composer Vincent d’Indy (1851-1931) at the Château des Faugs in southern France. Moreau was renowned for his bronze female figures, and often looked to subjects from the Orient or Antiquity – such as Queen Semiramis, the legendary founder of mythical Babylon. This bronze figure, of note for the refined detailing to the clothing and jewelery, is typical of his style (est. ˆ22,000-30,000).
Lucien Gibert's Algerian Dancer was shown at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1943, before Gibert's trip to Algeria and Equatorial Africa in 1948. A similar version is in the Musée des Années Trente (1930s Museum) in Boulogne-Billancourt, just outside Paris (est. ˆ13,000-15,000).
Charles Bigonet's Joueuse d'Osselets is a bronze casting dating from after 1923; the original plaster, from 1917, was exhibited at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français in 1920 (est. ˆ10,000-15,000).
Another sculpture highlight promises to be a chryselephantine version of Théodore Rivière's Salammbô chez Mathô – Je t'aime! Je t'aime! (c.1910), with polychrome brown, silver and gilded patina and precious stones on a marble base (est. ˆ25,000-30,000). Rivière visited Algeria and Tunis on several occasions, and was fascinated by the ruins of the Punic capital Carthage. The Oriental inspiration here is also literary, deriving from Gustave Flaubert's novel Salammbô.
Sotheby’s will also be offering Islamic works of art in Paris for the first time. The 120-lot ensemble covers a rich panorama of Oriental works of art from the Middle East, Minor and Central Asia, North Africa, India and China. The section comprises manuscripts, ceramics, metalwork, textiles and furniture spanning the 8th to the 19th centuries.
One highlight is a rare palissander cabinet: inlaid with stained bone and ivory, made in northern India during the second half of the 17th century (est. ˆ8,000-12,000). It is one of a small group of cabinets produced in Indian workshops for the Oriental market, notably Syria.
One of the calligraphies highlights is a quatrain of Persian poetry (est. ˆ6,000-8,000) signed by the calligrapher Khalil Padishah Qalam and the illuminator Mahmoud Muhamed Taqi Al-(Bâ?)risî (Deccan, Moghol India, c.1600). The renowned calligrapher Khalil Pâdishâh Qalam, active in the late 16th/early 17th century and also known as Mir Khalil Allâh, was a pupil of Saïd Ahmad Mashhadi and lived in Iran (Mashhad, Qazvin, Kashan) before moving to India.
Two important 15th century leaves (Tabriz or Qazvin) from the story of the prophets, Qisas al-Anbyâ, illustrated with two miniatures depicting the story of King Solomon (est. ˆ4,000-6,000).
The sale also includes a fine group of Iznik ceramics, notably a colorfully patterned dish (c.1575) with a large central saz leaf surrounded by carnations, tulips and peonies on a white background (est. ˆ12,000-15,000).
Other magnificent items from the Ottoman Empire including a 19th century Hereke-style velvet çatma with star and crescent pattern on metal thread (est. ˆ4,000-6,000); and a group of gilt-copper (tombak) objects, notably an 18th century sprinkler (gulabdan) engraved with lambrequins and spirals (est. ˆ6,000-8,000).